Arab foreign ministers to discuss Israeli settlements



“The international momentum does not seem to be affecting the Israeli position and maybe will not, so we will meet to decide what is to be done,” Moussa told a news conference. “It is now clear that the settlements issue will destroy any hope of peace and will break the course of Annapolis.”

Israeli officials have said Israel would allow construction within built up areas of existing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, but would not expand beyond those areas — a position that could widen the rift in US-backed peace talks launched in Annapolis, Maryland, last month.

The Palestinians say the negotiations, the first in seven years, hinge on Israel committing to halt all settlement activity, including so-called natural growth, as called for under the long-stalled road map peace plan.

It was not immediately clear when or where the meeting will be held, but Moussa told the news conference: “We will have this meeting in a very short period of time.” The call for the meeting came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Moussa said, adding it will also discuss Lebanon.

“The Lebanese crisis is an Arab responsibility and we are holding talks not only with Lebanese officials but also with others,” he said. Hesham Youssef, Moussa’s chief of staff, told Reuters he was going to visit Lebanon in the near future. “The timing will be decided in a few days,” he said.

The top Palestinian security official, meanwhile, said his government was dismantling armed groups, including those connected to President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. “There is no Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades any more,” Interior Minister Abdel-Razak Al-Yahya told Voice of Palestine radio, referring to the group linked to Fatah.

Yahya vowed to exert broader security control a day after Palestinian fighters killed two off-duty Israeli soldiers who were hiking near the West Bank city of Hebron. Two fighters were also killed in the gunbattle.

Israel arrested at least five Palestinians in the Hebron area following the shooting, the army said.

Palestinian security officials said Abbas’ security crackdown in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was focusing largely on Hamas members, who seized control of the Gaza Strip in June after routing Abbas’ forces there.

The officials said the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades largely agreed to go along with the government’s security plan in the West Bank without putting up a fight.

Israeli officials and some Al-Aqsa units, however, say the group remains active.

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed in Annapolis to launch negotiations with the goal of reaching a statehood agreement by the end of 2008. But Israel has said it will not implement any agreement until the Palestinians meet their obligations under the road map to rein in fighters in both the West Bank, where Fatah still holds sway, as well as Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Tensions between the factions remain high, particularly in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas barred Abbas’ supporters from holding an anniversary rally for Fatah on Tuesday. Fahmi Al-Zarir, Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, said Fatah would defy the ban. Yahya said Abbas’ Western-backed government was “working to dismantle” other armed groups besides Al-Aqsa, although he did not spell out how that would be accomplished.

“We wish they (other groups) will respond positively and follow Al-Aqsa’s example,” Yahya said.

He stopped short of threatening to deploy his forces against those who resist the clampdown, but said: “We will impose law and order.”

Western diplomats say Abbas forces have taken serious steps in parts of the West Bank to impose law and order, and to crack down on Hamas fighters. But the diplomats questioned the government’s ability to disarm Fatah militias on a larger scale, noting Al-Aqsa’s decentralized command structure.



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